If you don’t see this week’s issue by the end of the week, check http://parshapotpourri.blogspot.com which may be more up-to-date
Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues
Parshas Behar - Vol. 3,
Compiled by Oizer Alport
V’kidashtem es sh’nas hachamishim shana u’krasem dror b’aretz l’kol yoshveha yovel hee tihyeh lachem (25:10)
Parshas Behar begins by teaching us about the mitzvah of Shemittah, which requires us to allow the ground to lay fallow every seven years. We are then introduced to the concept of Yovel, which occurs in the 50th year after every seven Shemittah cycles. In addition to allowing the earth to rest, Yovel also contains one of the most famous requirements in the Torah.
In the Yovel year we are also required to free all Jewish slaves. The verse in the Torah requiring us to “proclaim liberty throughout all the land for unto all of its inhabitants” was immortalized on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, which was rung in 1774 to announce the opening of the first Continental Congress, and according to legend, on July 8, 1776, to summon citizens to hear the reading of the Declaration of Independence.
Its historical significance notwithstanding, there seems to be one glaring error in this verse. Although it was indeed appropriate for our nation’s Founding Fathers to declare freedom for “all” of America’s inhabitants, why does the Torah tell us to do so? Since the Yovel year represents independence only for the slaves that would be freed, in what way is it considered liberating for “all” of the people?
The following story will help us answer these questions. Rav Issar Zalman Meltzer was once walking home with his nephew on a cold winter day. As he reached his home and started to ascend the steps, he suddenly turned around. Rav Issar Zalman began pacing on the sidewalk, apparently deep in thought. His nephew pressed him for an explanation for his bizarre behavior, but he shrugged him off.
After ten minutes, Rav Issar Zalman again approached the house, but again did an about-face and resumed his pacing. As it was growing bitterly cold, his perplexed nephew begged for mercy or at least an explanation. Rav Issar Zalman relented and explained. “As I walked up the steps, I heard the young woman who comes every week to help out in the kitchen singing to herself while mopping the floor. I realized that if I barged in right in the middle, she would be embarrassed and stop singing. I don’t have the right to deny her the pleasure she has of singing while she works, so I decided to wait outside until she finishes.”
In light of this story about Rav Issar Zalman’s sensitivity to his cleaning lady, we can appreciate the answer to our question given by Rav Zalman Sorotzkin. The Gemora teaches (Kiddushin 20a) that whoever purchases a Jewish slave in effect acquires a master for himself. The Torah demands that an employer be responsible for the well-being of his employees.
As Rav Issar Zalman teaches us, he is obligated not just to provide them with a paycheck, but also with a warm and supportive work environment which takes their feelings and welfare into account. By ordering the slaves to go free in the Yovel year, the Torah is in effect lifting a major burden off of their current owners, in essence creating a newfound freedom and liberty not just for the freed slaves but also for their masters!
V’ki sasig yad ger v’toshav imach u’mach achicha imo v’nimkar l’ger toshav imach o l’eiker mishpachas ger acharei nimkar geulah tih’yeh lo echad me’echav yigalenu (25:47-48)
The Torah discusses the case of a Jew who has reached such desperate straits as to have no other option but to take the degrading step of selling himself as a slave, not even to a Jewish master but to a non-Jew. Rashi notes that although the law is that he will automatically go free in the next Yovel year, the Torah obligates his relatives to redeem him immediately so that he not remain a slave and learn from his new master’s foreign ways.
The Darkei HaShleimus notes that Rashi explains (26:1) that the passages in Parshas Behar are written in a specific order to hint to a chronological order of events and punishments. A person who refuses to observe the laws of the Shemittah year will suffer financial misfortune and be forced to sell his possessions. If he refuses to correct his ways, his fortune will continue to decline until he is forced to sell his ancestral land, his house, and ultimately himself, not to a Jewish owner but to a non-Jewish master.
If we would witness this tragic chain of events transpiring, it would be very natural for us to feel no pity for somebody who not only blatantly transgressed the mitzvos, but stubbornly refused to open his eyes and accept the Heavenly rebuke. We would feel a certain satisfaction knowing that he is finally receiving what is coming to him. We would be tempted to leave him enslaved until he naturally goes free in the Yovel year, and we would certainly be unwilling to spend money to redeem him. However, it is precisely on such an individual – one of Hashem’s children – that the Torah has mercy and commands that he should be immediately redeemed to prevent him from falling even farther. This lesson teaches us the importance of never giving up hope on the soul of even one of our Jewish brethren, no matter how distant and estranged they may seem at present.
V’chishav im koneihu mishenas himachro lo ad shenas hayovel v’haya kesef mimkaro b’mispar shanim kiymei sachir yihyeh imo (25:50)
The Torah discusses the case of a Jew who has reached such desperate straits as to have no other option but to take the degrading step of selling himself as a slave, not even to a Jewish master but to a non-Jew. Although the law is that he will automatically go free in the next Yovel year, the Torah obligates his relatives to redeem him immediately so that he not remain a slave and learn from his new master’s foreign ways.
Rashi explains that he is to be redeemed by dividing the amount paid for him by the number of years which remained at that time until the Yovel year. This yields the value to his master of each year of his work. This should be multiplied by the number of years he has already worked, which represents the value of the work he has performed thus far. This amount should be subtracted from the original purchase price, and the remaining amount is the “balance” which his relatives must pay his master for his freedom.
The Chofetz Chaim derives an inspiring lesson from these seemingly mundane and complex laws. A Jew living today who is told to yearn for the coming of Moshiach could easily despair and wonder how he will merit seeing something which was denied to so many righteous individuals in previous generations. However, we learn from these laws that the closer a slave gets to the predetermined time of his release (the Yovel year), the less money will be needed to purchase his premature freedom because of all of the work he has already performed.
Similarly, upon creating the universe, Hashem decreed a preordained time for the final redemption. However, He stipulated that with sufficient merits, it would be possible to bring Moshiach before this time. In order to cause his arrival centuries in advance of the prearranged time, tremendous merits were necessary, something that even our most pious ancestors weren’t able to accumulate. As the time for the ultimate redemption draws ever nearer, however, the remaining “balance” dwindles ever smaller, a balance which we are indeed capable of “paying off” if we only allow ourselves to serve Hashem to our maximum potential!
the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Virtually the entire book of Vayikra revolves around the Mishkan and the laws of the Divine Service performed therein. Why were the Parshios of Behar and Bechukosai, which seemingly deal with unrelated topics, placed here? (Daas Z’keinim, Paneiach Raza)
2) Rashi writes (25:1) that the Torah emphasizes that the mitzvah of Shemittah was given at Mount Sinai in order to teach that all mitzvos, both their general principles and detailed rules, were also given at Mount Sinai. How can this be understood in light of the numerous episodes – Pesach Sheini, the daughters of Tzelafchad, and the blasphemer – in which Moshe himself didn’t know the law and only discovered it upon asking Hashem at that time? (Chazon Ish Orach Chaim 125, Maharil Diskin, Shiras Dovid)
3) All of the laws regarding the Shemittah year are written in the singular, while those pertaining to the Yovel year are written in the plural. Why the difference? (Har Tzvi, K’motzei Shalal Rav)
4) The Gemora in Shabbos (69b) records a dispute regarding the law for somebody who finds himself lost in the desert, and because he doesn’t know what day it is, is unsure when to observe Shabbos. One opinion maintains that the person should observe the next day as Shabbos and then count an additional six days before again observing Shabbos, while the other opines that he should first count six days and only then observe the first Shabbos. In the event that one is lost in Israel and doesn’t know when the Shemittah year is, would the same dispute apply as to how to proceed? (Mishmeres Ariel)
5) The Gemora in Bava Metzia (62a) discusses a case in which two people are lost in the nearest settlement, but if one of them drinks it, he will be able to survive. Rebbi Akiva derives from a verse in our parsha (25:36) that “chayecha kodmin” – the one with the water should drink it all, as his life takes precedence over that of his friend. If three people are lost in the desert and one of them has sufficient water for himself and one other person, it is clear that he should drink one supply of water, but what should he do with the second? (Chiddushei HaRim)
6) Rashi quotes (26:1) the Gemora in Kiddushin (20a) which explains the order of passages in the parsha as reflecting the increasingly severe punishments meted out to one who works the land in the Shemittah year, one of which is that he will be forced to borrow money and pay it back with interest. How will this punishment ever come to fruition, as it is prohibited for other Jews to lend him money and demand interest even if he has behaved incorrectly? (Darash Moshe)
© 2008 by Oizer Alport. Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute as long as credit is given. To receive weekly via email or to send comments or suggestions, write to email@example.com
Shema Yisrael Torah Network